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British PM blames Russia for nerve agent attack on former spy in UK: 'Unlawful use of force

Military personnel wearing protective suits remove a police car and other vehicles from a public car park as they continue investigations into the poisoning of Sergei Skripal on Monday in Salisbury, England. Sergei Skripal who was granted refuge in the U.K. following a 'spy swap' between the US and Russia in 2010 and his daughter remain critically ill after being attacked with a nerve agent. (Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

In a speech before Parliament on Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May called out Russia as the likely culprit behind the attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, and also stated that the attack was an "unlawful use of force" against the U.K.

The British government had made no official statement on who was to blame for the attack prior to the prime minister's statement. May called the attack an “indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom” and promised repercussions if the Russians did not offer an adequate explanation.

May first assured members of Parliament that investigators had been cautious before arriving at that conclusion.

“It is essential that we proceed in the right way, led not by speculation but by the evidence," May said. "That is why we have given the police the space and time to carry out their investigation properly.”

She then laid out the rational for the decision to accuse Russia of likely orchestrating the attack:

It is now clear that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia. This is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok. Based on the positive identification of this chemical agent by world leading experts at the Defense Science, and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, our knowledge that Russia has previously produced this agent, and would still be capable of doing so, Russia’s record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations, and our assessment that Russia views some defectors as legitimate targets for assassinations, the government has concluded that it is highly likely that Russia was responsible for the act against Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

May said that there were only two ways that the toxin could get in the hands of the person who tried to kill the Skripals: “Either this was a direct act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of its potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent, and allowed it to get into the hands of others.”

May also revealed that the foreign secretary had summoned the Russian ambassador “and asked him to explain which of these two possibilities it is.” The foreign secretary requested that the Russian Federation supply “full and complete disclosure of the Novichok program to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” and asked him to answer by the end of Tuesday.

Novichok, the Russian word for “newcomer,” was a name assigned to several chemical weapons developed in Russia during the 1970s and 1980s. One in particular, Novichok A-230, is allegedly five to eight times as powerful as the VX nerve agent that was used in the assassination of Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in February 2016.

May said she was prepared to act based on how the Russians responded:

Mr. Speaker, on Wednesday we will consider in detail the response from the Russian state. Should there be no credible response, we will conclude that this action amounts to an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom. And I will come back to this house and set out the full range of measures that we will take in response. Mr. Speaker, this attempted murder using a weapons-grade nerve agent in a British town was not just a crime against the Skripals. It was an indiscriminate and reckless act against the United Kingdom, putting the lives of innocent civilians at risk. And we will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil.

May’s statement was met with murmurs of approval from the members of Parliament.

Former Russian double agent Col. Sergei Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter were in critical condition after being poisoned on March 4 outside a shopping center in Salisbury, England. Col. Skripal was a former Russian army colonel who defected and began supplying information to MI6. He moved to the U.K. after a high profile spy swap in 2010.

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